Tue Aug 15, 1:06 PM ET
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called on parents in India to stop seeing girls as an economic liability and to end the practice of killing unborn female foetuses.
Singh's appeal on India's 59th Independence Day came four days after the grisly discovery of 25 female foetuses from a private clinic in northern Punjab state, which has the country's lowest sex ratio due to rampant female foeticide.
"We must end the crime of female foeticide. We must eliminate gender disparity," Singh said in an address to the nation.
"We have a dream of an India in which every woman can feel safe, secure and empowered. Where our mothers, sisters and daughters are assured a life of dignity and personal security," he added.
A study by British medical journal The Lancet said this year that India may have lost 10 million unborn girls in the past 20 years, but Indian experts say the figure is not more than five million.
Under Indian law, tests to find out the gender of an unborn baby are illegal if not done for medical reasons, but the practice continues in what activists say is a flourishing multi-million dollar business.
Premier Singh urged parents not to neglect their girl children.
"It should be ensured that every young woman is educated and skilled and capable of guiding a new generation," he said.
Punjab state has 798 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of six while the national average is 927 -- still well below the worldwide average of 1,050 female babies.
Girls in India are often considered a liability as parents have to put away large sums of money for dowries at the time of their marriage.
Centuries of tradition also demand that couples produce at least one male child to carry on the family name.
Many grooms demand dowry well beyond the means of families of their spouse -- demands which often result in the killing of newly-married women.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, India in 2004 posted 19 dowry-related deaths every day but women's organisations say the actual figure is 10 times higher.